Berkeley Native Shot, Killed Near Unit 2

Josh Keller is the news editor. Contact him at [email protected]

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A 19-year-old Berkeley resident and Dartmouth College junior was shot and killed while standing outside her College Avenue apartment with a group of friends yesterday morning.

Meleia Willis-Starbuck was standing near College and Haste avenues on her way to a party with a group of girlfriends at about 1:45 a.m. yesterday, police and friends said.

A group of people approached Willis-Starbuck and her friends and started arguing with them and left shortly thereafter, Berkeley police Officer Joe Okies said. A few minutes later, a car drove up Dwight Way, and a man got out and fired at least three shots into the group of girls, Okies said.

Willis-Starbuck was hit once and was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the Alameda County Coroner's Office. The shooter got back in the car and fled east on Dwight and has not yet been identified, Okies said.

Police are looking for the shooter, whom Okies said is a 5-foot-10-inch black man in his 20s with a thin build. Okies declined to say if police knew if there were others in the car.

The shooting was Berkeley's second homicide of the year.

Okies said police are investigating whether Willis-Starbuck knew the shooter, but several friends said yesterday that the shooting appeared "completely random."

Friends said Willis-Starbuck, a Dartmouth junior who graduated from Berkeley High School, was subletting an apartment on the block while she interned at the city's Women's Daytime Drop-In Center over the summer.

Dana Johnson, one of Willis-Starbuck's friends who was with her during the incident, declined to discuss what happened but said yesterday that Willis-Starbuck "made everybody a better person."

"The only reason everybody's so close is Meleia," Johnson said as she looked out at the crowd of about 100 who gathered yesterday to put flowers and candles at a memorial where she was shot. "She had a magical way of bringing people who didn't know each other together."

Across the street, where the windows of Davidson Hall in Unit 2 face the sidewalk, several students staying in the residence halls said they woke up hearing three gunshots and loud yelling.

One resident who declined to give her name said she saw a group of men running away, a white car speeding away from the scene and one of Willis-Starbuck's friends trying to revive her with CPR.

"Until today, I thought college was really safe," the student said.

By all accounts, Willis-Starbuck was a promising student. Friends said she obtained a full scholarship to Dartmouth, where she was working toward a double major in sociology and African American Studies. She was also a leader while she attended Berkeley High, serving as president of the school's Black Student Union and volunteering at a soup kitchen and a center for disadvantaged youth.

Willis-Starbuck returned to Berkeley to intern at the Women's Drop-In Center, where she worked with children of women in the program, said the program's executive director Linda Lazzareschi.

Lazzareschi said the shooting will affect many across the city. Willis-Starbuck's mother, Kimberly Willis-Starbuck, previously worked in Berkeley's city manager's office until their family moved to Atlanta with Willis-Starbuck's younger brother two years ago, she said.

"It's just absolutely heartbreaking that a young woman of promise was cut down like this," Lazzareschi said. The children in the program, she said, "just gravitated to her because she was so friendly and outgoing and genuine. Quite mature for 19 years old."

Wendy Qi of the Daily Californian contributed to this report.


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